He was in LA already, so on Friday Gov. Jerry Brown decided to pay a visit to the headquarters of California’s largest public school district.
We can only assume the talk with Superintendent John Deasy was about budgets, but it’s likely Miramonte Elementary School also came up.
The sex abuse scandal at this school south of downtown LA has become national news.
Brian Williams led with it last week, with ABC and CBS not far behind.
The scandal is significant enough that the district decided to temporarily replace the entire faculty and staff of the school.
At the moment the investigation is limited to two teachers, but there have been rumors of an impending third arrest.
As with the analogous abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church parish by parish, some worry this could metastasize to other schools (it was announced last week that a third grade teacher in Pacoima was arrested for molesting four students).
All this represents a horror for children with the possibility of political consequences as well.
Take for example the arguments that are being honed for the November ballot measure fight over tax hikes.
It is looking like three different proposals will go before voters that will raise taxes.
Each is being marketed as a way to restore badly needed funding for k-through-12 education.
But when raising the issue of budgets and tax dollars there is always the fear someone will bring up the dicey issue of how all that money will be spent.
That’s where Miramonte comes in.
As soon as law enforcement told the district that third grade teacher Mark Berndt was under investigation for child molestation, and showed them some of the pictures he had taken with his students, they took him out of school.
But firing Berndt would be another matter.
“We don’t fire teachers” the Superintendent declared the other day. “We can move them out of the classroom but we could end up paying them for years.”
Deasy was referring to the fact that any dismissed teacher can appeal to a three-person panel-- all of them teachers-- who ultimately decide the matter.
One of the three teachers on the “Commission for Professional Competency” is selected by the teachers' union, another by the district and a third at random.
A review by the Los Angeles Times in 2009 indicated that in over half of the appeals the teachers were returned to their jobs with back pay.
Mark Berndt was fired, but he appealed.
His hearing was to take place months before the criminal investigation was to conclude and the district was kept in the dark on the principle evidence in the case.
Deasy says he feared that if Berndt won his appeal, which he says was likely, he would have been back in the classroom.
With that in mind they offered a deal, $40,000 in back pay in exchange for Berndt’s resignation. Berndt agreed and signed the documents in June, apparently so he would complete another academic year to add to his pension.
Oh and yeah, there’s the pension.
Berndt could end up behind bars for molesting children in his class and still be able to collect tens of thousands of dollars each year. It’s the law.
On Tuesday the United Teachers of Los Angeles will conduct a protest rally over potential layoffs of teachers for the fourth year in a row.
They have a legitimate gripe.
So too though does the district and taxpayers over the amount of money wasted on teachers who don’t teach and even those suspected of molesting students.
Governor Brown long ago acknowledged the "disconnect" the public has with its institutions.
Back then he was referreing to the pension and salary scandal in the city of Bell. Mr. Brown knows this could be far worse, which may be why he spent part of his morning Friday on Beaudry street.